I’m writing under the shadow of Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 monster.
Everyone is monitoring this beast obsessively. When the latest National Hurricane Center advisory goes live, the site slows to a crawl as thousands upon thousands of users seek hints about the likely path of devastation.
Chastened by the disaster wrought by Harvey in Texas and intimidated by the notion of 185 mph sustained winds, we Floridians are taking this one very seriously. Store shelves and gas station fuel tanks have emptied, while community event cancellation lists and major highways have filled.
Perhaps the worst part is the waiting. Once your preparations are made, once work shuts down and the kids start their unplanned school holiday, what’s left? The daily routine is shot, the places one might go are closed or inaccessible.
What do we do?
We worry. And that’s sad.
As Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century French philosopher and essayist, wrote, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” Our worries frequently have little to do with the reality we will experience. Worry about what might happen frequently is more damaging than what actually happens.
How can leaders (in the home, the office, the EOC) ease worries . . . theirs and others’?
- Resist the extremes
Anxieties can spiral out of control while waiting, especially if others’ anxieties are soaring, too. In response to that extreme, we can be tempted to promise that nothing bad will happen . . . even if something bad may happen. Neither approach is prudent. We need to resist the phantasms of our fears and the hyperbole of our hopes.
- Be honest about what we can and can’t do
When someone is badly frightened, we may be tempted to offer an assurance beyond our capacity to ensure. Promising that everything will be fine may be laying the ax to the tree of trust when, sadly, some things don’t turn out fine. Offer assurance by reviewing what has been done and what we can and will do going forward. Don’t promise what we can’t be certain we will deliver.
- Keep busy
The idle mind is worry’s playground. Better to be busy, even if what we are busy about is not important. Start a long-postponed project. Scrub the grout in the shower stall. Initiate a game of Risk or Monopoly, playing by those house rules that make the game go on forever. Just get busy.
When a dear friend of mine was battling episodic depression, her doctor prescribed the watching of at least one of her favorite sitcoms or romantic comedies every day. This “prescription” empowered her to make time for laughter (and to tell her husband and kids “no, I can’t right now; I’m taking my medicine!”). The doc was smart. Laughter releases endorphins, powerful natural chemicals that substantially improve our outlook and our ability to cope. So laugh, and get others to laugh. Even when the wind is howling and the building is shaking, we must not lose our sense of humor.
Mental preparation is as important as laying in supplies for the coming storm. Whether in homes, in a shelter or in the EOC, we need leaders who can help us overcome our worries.